A surge in coronavirus cases in Scotland has driven the UK’s total to its biggest rise in eight weeks – as new infections north of the border hit 123, its highest daily total in three months.
The Scottish total spiked by 73 per cent from yesterday’s total of 71, and experts have blamed an outbreak at the 2 Sisters meat processing plant in Coupar Angus.
In the UK, there were 1,288 new cases today, compared with 1,077 last Saturday.
Some 18 more people have died from the disease across all settings – including care homes, hospitals and the wider community – bring the UK’s total death toll to 41,423.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the large number of cases as being ‘of concern’.
Today has brought the biggest rise in cases for a Saturday since June 20, when 1,295 people were diagnosed with Covid-19. On that day, 71 people died after testing positive.
Britain’s total caseload during the pandemic has hit 324,601.
Meanwhile, Scotland today recorded its highest daily rise in coronavirus cases in three months after 123 new diagnoses were reported – up from 71 yesterday.
Some 78 of those cases were reported in NHS Tayside – the biggest increase in a single health board.
The Coupar Angus food processing plant – which has been connected to a 68 case-spike – is covered by this area.
Ms Sturgeon said the rise must be seen in the context of the food plant’s coronavirus cluster.
Scotland reported no new deaths. Wales reported 34 new cases and one further deaths.
In other coronavirus developments in Britain:
After the dramatic increase in cases was revealed, Ms Sturgeon tweeted: ‘123 new positive Covid cases today is of course of concern.
‘However, it also needs some context – 78 of them are in Tayside where we’re dealing with the outbreak at the 2 Sisters food processing plant.
‘Important that all workers and household contacts follow advice to isolate.’
During the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday, the First Minster said the Coupar Angus food processing plant has been closed for two weeks following the outbreak.
She said: ‘I can confirm that as of now a total of 68 cases have now been identified as part of this outbreak – 59 people who work in the plant, and 9 of their contacts.
‘Two of these contacts have links to other food processing factories in Tayside. The Incident Management Team is now carrying out risk assessments at both of those sites.’
She said all workers at the plant were being asked to self-isolate along with their households for 14 days to curb any further spread of the virus.
It comes after a former chief scientific adviser warned that coronavirus will be present ‘forever’ and people are likely to need regular vaccinations against it.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, who is a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that, like flu, repeat inoculations will be required to control outbreaks – but Covid-19 will never be ‘eradicated by vaccination’ like smallpox was.
Meanwhile Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Trinidad and Tobago have been added to the list of countries subject to quarantine restrictions in Scotland.
Switzerland remains on England’s travel corridor list – meaning anyone travelling to England from Switzerland will not have to isolate.
From 4am Saturday morning anyone returning to Scotland from those four countries will have to isolate for 14 days.
England has also enforced travel restrictions from Austria, Croatia and Trinidad and Tobago.
Portugal, however, has been removed from the international quarantine lists of both England and Scotland.
Sir Walport’s stark warning comes amid fears that the country could see a second national lockdown if it sees a rise in cases like Spain – a move the professor did not rule out entirely.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘This is a virus that is going to be with us forever in some form or another and almost certainly will require repeated vaccinations,’ he said.
‘So, a bit like flu, people will need re-vaccination at regular intervals.’
The scientist also warned that it is ‘possible’ the virus will get ‘out of control’ again, but said more targeted measures can now be used instead of a generic lockdown.
He added: ‘People have argued very strongly that applying generic lockdowns isn’t the answer. Initially it had to be the case but now we can be much more targeted in the approach.’
Asked if Britain will never see another wide-spread lockdown again, he replied: ‘Never is a very strong word. The whole point is to improve the local control, increase the amount of testing, give guidance to avoid that happening.
‘But is there a situation where it could get out of control? Well obviously that’s possible.’
Local lockdowns in Manchester and Leicester have already been implemented, with households in Oldham and Blackburn to be banned from meeting in each others’ homes from midnight.
Professor Walport’s, comments came after the head of the World Health Organisation said he hopes the coronavirus pandemic will be over within two years.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it took two years to overcome the Spanish flu in 1918, but that advances in technology could allow Covid-19 to be stopped in a ‘shorter time’.
Speaking in Geneva on Friday, he said: ‘Of course, with more connectiveness, the virus has a better chance of spreading.
‘But, at the same time, we have also the technology to stop it, and the knowledge to stop it.’
Fears about potential ‘nationwide measures’ to combat a spike in cases come as after the R-rate crept over one for the first time since restrictions were lifted in July.
Senior officials said local outbreaks could skew the reproduction number, which needs to stay below one to avoid another rise in infections, but another nationwide lockdown could soon be necessary to curb the spread.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said another lockdown was a ‘nuclear deterrent’ in an interview with The Daily Telegraph last month – effectively ruling out the option of a second nationwide shutdown.
But officials are reportedly keen to avoid a situation like Spain, where 142 cases per 100,000 people represents the fastest growing infection rate in Europe.
A senior government source told The Daily Telegraph: ‘If it doesn’t get contained it may be that some things that have been open, you need to think about whether measures need to be taken to reverse things.
‘The strategy is to manage this through local outbreak management, but if it moves in the direction of Spain, then clearly you can see what’s happening there, and in France, people are making more nationwide measures.’
They added that the prospect of national lockdown depended on the ‘trajectory’ of the spread and how quickly outbreaks can be dealt with.
Another source told the newspaper: ‘We’re looking at a pretty bumpy autumn and winter and that’s going to go in the direction of increased cases and increased outbreaks.’ The daily case number in the UK is nearly double the tally at the beginning of June, and is likely to increase further once schools reopen in September.
Oliver Johnson, a professor of information theory at the University of Bristol, said: ‘The major concern is that R values of this magnitude do not leave a significant margin before the epidemic starts to grow in size again, and raise the possibility that some re-openings may need to be reversed to allow schools to open safely.’
Britain has around 11 cases per 100,000 people and just 97 admitted to hospital. But Public Health England surveillance showed case detection in England increased from 5,763 to 6,418 in the week to Aug 16, up 11 per cent.
Confusion was today sparked about the current trajectory of the Covid-19 crisis in the UK. SAGE has warned that Britain’s coronavirus R rate could now be above the dreaded level of 1 just hours after a Government surveillance study revealed cases had fallen.
Government advisers estimate the R value – the average number of people each coronavirus patient infects – is now between 0.9 and 1.1, up from last week’s prediction that it was hovering around 0.8 and 1. It needs to stay below one or the virus could start to spread exponentially again.
But an official report released this afternoon suggested the epidemic is shrinking. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated weekly infections have plummeted by a third in a week, with 2,400 people now contracting the disease every day in England alone – down from the 3,800 last week.
Fears of a second wave are high because cases had risen consistently throughout July – but government figures suggested they have started to drop again this week. Top experts warned the rise was down to more testing in badly-hit areas, saying hospital admissions and deaths have not risen in line with infections.
Government sources say the spike in cases is largely down to younger people getting infected, who studies have shown face less risk of dying or becoming severely ill from Covid-19.
Households in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn will be banned from socialising together from midnight tonight after the Government announced drastic new measures to tackle spiralling coronavirus outbreaks in the three authorities.
Number 10 agreed the tougher restrictions with council bosses, warning that infection rates are still rising despite ‘dedicated efforts’ to contain the virus. Officials stopped short of imposing full localised lockdowns and ordering businesses to shut, which local leaders warned would have been ‘catastrophic’ for already-struggling firms.
Ministers today also announced Wigan, Darwen and Rossendale have seen cases drop and will soon be released from lockdown rules currently enforced in Greater Manchester as well as parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire, where residents are banned from meeting another household in the comfort of their own home or garden.
Meanwhile, the Government has designated Birmingham as an ‘Area of Enhanced Support’ after the city’s Covid-19 infection rate has almost tripled since the start of August. Additional testing will be rolled out across the authority to determine the extent of the escalating outbreak.
And a Northampton sandwich factory that supplies M&S – where almost 300 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus – was also shut down today. All employees and their households must isolate for two-weeks, or face being fined.
The new rules in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn will not prevent people from going shopping, going to work or attending child-care settings including schools which are due to reopen from September 1.
However, they do mean that social activities both indoors and outdoors can only be shared with people who live together. Residents in the three areas are also being advised to avoid using public transport except for essential travel.
The number of people who can attend weddings and funerals is recommended to be limited to household members and close family and no more than 20 people. Local restaurants are being told not to allow walk-ins and to only seat people who have made reservations in advance – with a maximum of six people per table.
The new rules, which will not apply in the Darwen area of the Blackburn with Darwen Upper Tier Local Authority area, parts of Pendle, in Rossendale or in Wigan, are in addition to the existing ban on indoor gatherings of more than two households in place across parts of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire.
By Dominic Sandbrook for the Daily Mail
A few days ago, I took a stroll to the shops. It was a glorious morning and the parks and cafés were full of families enjoying the sunshine.
Perhaps the shops were a little quieter than they would have been a year ago; but they were busy enough.
The restaurants were preparing for lunch; the mood was relaxed and happy. And nobody — yes, nobody — was wearing a mask.
That, of course, is the giveaway.
I wasn’t in Britain but in Sweden, a nation which stood alone in Europe in refusing to institute lockdown.
And as I queued to buy my son an ice cream, I was struck by the contrast with the situation back home. Like most people, I never imagined that the lockdown would last so long, or that the consequences would be so calamitous.
Indeed, a few weeks after Boris Johnson announced the draconian restrictions on lives and livelihoods, I wrote on these pages that fears of a second Great Depression were overblown, and that with the right spirit, Britain would quickly bounce back.
But as the months went by and we sank into inertia, my optimism evaporated.
Recent figures suggest that our economy shrank by 20 per cent in the first three months of lockdown, a far worse decline than in other industrial countries such as the U.S. and Germany.
Most experts believe the worst is yet to come, with the Bank of England predicting that unemployment will hit 2.5 million by the end of the year. And even that may be too optimistic.
Yet despite these dire projections and the need to get the nation up and running — and in spite of the good news on the dramatic fall in death rates and admissions to hospital — parts of Britain remain in the grip of near-terminal paralysis.
City centres are deserted, commuter trains empty and the offices that are open operating with skeleton staff. As a result, countless shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes have not bothered to reopen — and may never do so.
As for Boris Johnson, he appeared to have vanished without a trace — at least until the Mail tracked him down to a remote Scottish location this week.
The Government seems incapable of giving a lead and the public mood is characterised by bickering and bitter negativity. There is little sign of the upbeat, can-do spirit we badly need to revive our national fortunes.
So it was with a sense of relief that two weeks ago I boarded the plane to the Swedish capital Stockholm. For in Sweden, leaders kept shops and offices open throughout, insisted that children went to school and still do not tell their citizens to wear masks.
Yet I can’t deny I felt a twinge of anxiety. As fervent admirers of all things Scandinavian, we’d arranged our family holiday when the coronavirus was merely a glint in the eye of a Chinese bat. Occasionally I wondered if we might be sensible to cancel it. But my wife, a much braver person than me, would not hear of it.
And quite apart from the attractions of cinnamon buns, unspoiled forests and glittering Baltic waters, I was curious to see how the Swedes were getting on.
For months their country has been the great outlier, inspiring admiration and horror in equal measure.
Some reports claimed that ordinary life was unchanged. Others, especially in Left-wing circles, attacked Sweden as a dystopian disaster zone, as if the streets were littered with unburied bodies.
The author of the country’s coronavirus strategy, a mild-mannered state epidemiologist called Anders Tegnell, has become one of the most controversial men in Europe.
From the start, he insisted that mandatory lockdown was a waste of time. Sweden had a long-established plan for a pandemic, Mr Tegnell said, and was going to stick to it.
People should be sensible, wash their hands, avoid public transport and keep a safe distance, but that was it.
Closing schools was ‘meaningless’. Shutting borders was ‘ridiculous’. Masks were, by and large, a waste of time. Shops and restaurants should stay open.
And when interviewers asked why Sweden was not following Germany, France and Britain in locking down, Mr Tegnell had a robust answer. Other countries, he said, had ‘panicked’. But panicking was not the Swedish way.
Even as the virus spread, death rates soared and hospitals in Italy and Spain were overwhelmed, Sweden stuck to its guns. No lockdown.
The results were not perfect. Like us, the Swedes failed to protect their care homes.
By the time I landed in Stockholm, their death rate stood at almost 57 per 100,000 people, far worse than in neighbouring Nordic countries.
In fairness, though, Sweden is in parts more densely populated than most of Norway, Denmark and Finland, with three large cities in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.
And Sweden’s death rate is still lower than those in Belgium (87 per 100,000 people), Spain (62), Britain (62) and Italy (58) — all of which did go into lockdown.
So what did I make of it? Well, that’s easy. After the negativity, paranoia, moaning and squabbling of Britain, Sweden was paradise.
The contrast struck me almost immediately at the supermarket. Usually the sky-high Scandinavian prices leave me wincing in anguish.
But this time I barely noticed them, too busy enjoying the lack of queues outside the shop, the absence of masks and the generally relaxed atmosphere.
Nobody recoiled in horror when our trolley came within five metres of them. Nor did people shrink in terror when another shopper appeared in the aisle, as is the norm in British supermarkets these days.
That set the tone for the next two weeks. For the Swedes, summer life has carried on as normal. Perhaps people give strangers a little more distance than they usually would — but so sensibly, so discreetly, that you barely noticed.
When we went kayaking in the gorgeous Stockholm archipelago, the guide told us that he was fully booked at weekends, even though foreign tourist numbers had plummeted.
Similarly, when we visited the stunning Baltic island of Gotland, a kind of Scandinavian version of Cornwall, the holiday season was in full swing. The restaurants were busy and we often needed a booking to get in. Yes, we were offered hand sanitiser on arrival, but there was no great song and dance about it.
Since most Swedes speak excellent English, we often asked people what they made of it all. And the answers were always the same.
Yes, they were sorry that the virus had got into their care homes. But without exception, the Swedes were glad to have escaped lockdown.
By this time, with the A-level shambles beginning to unfold back home, I was feeling miserable about the prospect of returning.
But perhaps the Swedish experience was too good to be true? I had a look at the latest figures to find out.
On August 3, the day we arrived in Stockholm, just one Swedish person was reported to have died of Covid-19. The next day’s death toll was three. The following day’s was 13; then it was down to six.
According to Sebastian Rushworth, an American-born doctor in a Stockholm A&E department, he hasn’t seen a single Covid-19 patient in a month: ‘Basically,’ he writes, ‘Covid is in all practical senses over and done with in Sweden.’ So should Britain have followed the Swedish example?
One obvious counter-argument is that Britain is even more densely populated, with almost 70 million people to Sweden’s ten million. Perhaps we were always going to need some sort of lockdown, if only temporarily.
In every other respect, though, I think the comparison shows us in an almost embarrassing light.
In the first three months, Sweden’s economy shrank by approximately 9 per cent — less than half the downturn in our own economy. Our children stayed at home; theirs went to school. Our businesses closed; theirs stayed open. Our social and cultural life ground to a halt; theirs continued — with some sensible restrictions.
At the top, the difference could hardly be more glaring. Sweden’s scientists drew up a plan, and their government calmly followed it.
Even as international criticism of his tactics mounted, Mr Tegnell remained calm. Again and again he repeated that there was no point in panicking, no point in making crowd-pleasing gestures and no point in committing economic suicide.
Contrast that with Britain’s politicians, floundering around like drunkards at closing time, flip-flopping on policy and constantly being dragged into ever more stringent measures to appease the public hysteria.
But perhaps it’s too easy to blame Boris Johnson & Co — who are, after all, merely a reflection of the society they serve. Mr Tegnell’s approach worked because the Swedes are a serious, sensible, law-abiding lot, who believe in individual responsibility and can be trusted to behave themselves.
Again, contrast that with the scenes here: first the panic-buying of toilet rolls; then the punch-ups in supermarket aisles and car parks; the absurd crowds on South Coast beaches; even the mobs of ‘anti-racist’ anarchists who thought a pandemic was the ideal time to rant and rave. All pretty miserable, I know.
And I can’t deny that when we flew back to face a fortnight’s quarantine, I felt distinctly depressed, not just at the thought of all those blasted masks, but at the prospect of all the Left-wing whining, Right-wing bickering, political incompetence and general irresponsibility ahead.
So in Scandinavian spirit, here’s a positive note on which to end.
Tragic as the death toll in Britain has been, it has not come close to the 250,000 predicted by Professor Neil Ferguson’s apocalyptic model, which reportedly inspired Boris Johnson’s decision to impose a lockdown.
The death rate has been declining for months — a 95 per cent fall since the peak in April. Coronavirus casualties are now six times lower than deaths from flu and pneumonia. In the week to July 31, just 2.2 per cent of deaths in England and Wales were caused by Covid.
Children don’t seem to suffer from the virus, or spread it much. Just one healthy child is known to have died from Covid in Britain, and there is not a single case recorded worldwide of a child giving the virus to a teacher.
We know who is at greatest risk (the very old, the very fat, people with Caribbean and Asian backgrounds or with underlying problems such as diabetes and lung disease), and our clinicians have got much better at treating and managing the disease.
There’s no reason, in other words, why Britain’s politicians can’t change the record — and they must do so fast, even if it disrupts their precious holidays.
For too long we’ve been ruled by paranoia. But economic logic and sheer common sense dictate that we can’t remain paralysed for a minute longer.
The priority now must be to restart the engines of enterprise and rebuild the economy. Life always involves an element of risk, and as long as we’re sensible, we need to get back to normal and free ourselves from our national funk.
So now is the time — albeit belatedly — for Boris Johnson to issue a call to arms.
He may fancy himself as the reincarnation of Churchill, but so far he has failed to match the great man’s courage at a time of national crisis. Now, more than ever, he needs to throw off his caution and rally the nation.
The truth is that for many of us, the last few months have been one long holiday from reality. But the summer is almost over and the economy is on life-support. It’s time we got back to work.